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Crosswinds school solution not expected soon

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Crosswinds school solution not expected soon
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

It likely will be weeks, if not months, before a decision is made on the future of Crosswinds Arts and Science School.

Minnesota Management and Budget said last week that it won't approve any plan to take over the Crosswinds building until it sees whether lawmakers pass legislation this spring that would give Crosswinds to the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

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An attorney said the state budget agency's position trumps the Perpich bill in the House that was amended to remove an April 1 deadline by which Perpich had to receive legislative approval in order to get the Crosswinds building.

Perpich, which operates a Golden Valley-based high school program but draws students from around the state, technically is a school district and a state agency.

"The language doesn't mean anything," Jay Squires, attorney for the East Metro Integration District, said of the House bill.

The East Metro Integration District is looking to unload Crosswinds, located in Woodbury, and the Harambee school for grades K-5 in Maplewood. Crosswinds is a grades 6-10 program. South Washington County Schools wants the building if Perpich cannot get approval to acquire it.

Squires told a March 20 meeting of the EMID board, with members representing each of the integration district's 10 member school districts, that there is no action to take now that Minnesota Management and Budget has asserted itself.

Minnesota Management and Budget is exercising its authority to approve any transfer of the school because it backed the bonds that funded construction of Crosswinds and Harambee.

Twists, turns in decision

The twists and turns over the future of Crosswinds school, located near Tamarack Road and Interstate 494, began at the end of last year when the EMID board said it couldn't afford to fund the Harambee and Crosswinds programs.

Looking for a new owner, the EMID board voted in January to turn over Crosswinds to Perpich -- a choice favored by Crosswinds families -- if it could get funding and rule changes through the Legislature by April 1. If not, the EMID board decided, the school would go to South Washington County School District by default with no further action needed by the EMID board.

At the time of the decision, Sue Mackert, Perpich's executive director, said it would seek $2 million to $3 million from the Legislature to take over and operate Crosswinds and continue its current program. Perpich officials later said they did not need additional state money and that their pending legislation is revenue neutral.

School District 833 wants the school, located within the district boundaries, to address space issues for a growing district. It would not continue Crosswinds' integration-based and arts-focused curriculum.

Crosswinds, on a year-round schedule, has about 350 students with space for 600. Like EMID, said District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus, his district can't support the current program, which operates at a loss.

Crosswinds was built in 2003 to accept students from EMID's 10 districts to promote racial integration. Each district contributed funding from state money it gets to operate integration programs. In the case of District 833, $600,000 of the $1 million sent annually to EMID went to help operate the two schools.

But the face of integration programs and funding has changed and, a year ago, member districts told EMID that they wanted to keep more of their integration money for programs within their districts.

The EMID board decided to keep the schools open for one more year using reserve funds.

A waiting game

When the Crosswinds bills were introduced in the Legislature earlier this year, the Perpich center said did not ask for operating funds and said it could take over and operate the school using the per-pupil funding from the state.

While the Perpich bill has been approved by two House committees, a Senate companion bill has not received a hearing.

Roseville Area Schools, which accepted Harambee in January with the blessing of the EMID board, also has a bill to make sure it can keep the school.

One option for South Washington County Schools would be to ask that Roseville's Harambee legislation be amended in committee or during floor debate to include District 833 as the Crosswinds owner.

If the Perpich proposal doesn't make it through the legislative process and there is no action on Roseville's Harambee bill, with or without South Washington County Schools, Minnesota Management and Budget likely will send the matter back to the EMID board, according to Jim Gelbmann, a District 833 School Board member who also serves on the EMID board and works in the Minnesota House. (Gelbmann did not attend a recent committee hearing on the Perpich bill to avoid a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict.)

As lawmakers weigh the proposals, District 833 and Perpich might have to wait until after the Legislature adjourns in May to know if a solution has been reached.

District 833 administrators didn't have plan for how it would use the Crosswinds building when EMID made the January decision preferring that the school go to Perpich. Since then, however, District 833 released a Crosswinds proposal that would move Woodbury Elementary School students to Crosswinds, move 350 Spanish Immersion students from Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove to the Woodbury Elementary building, and connect that school and the adjacent Woodbury Middle School so some of the elementary school classrooms could be used for middle school students.

Gelbmann said he doesn't agree with the plan, which is also opposed by a group of Woodbury Elementary School parents upset about potentially losing their neighborhood school.

There is no 'Plan A," Gelbmann said, but there's a lot of "Plan B's."

Gelbmann said he would prefer that the district put an unspecified district programs at Crosswinds temporarily. In five years, the school could be converted to a fifth middle school, because that's the level where more space is needed.

With $1 million a year in upkeep costs at Crosswinds, "it's a pretty good deal for a $25 million building," Gelbmann said.

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Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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